We have given our panellists pen names and used stock images, but their biographies reflect their real career details.
Dicky Benfield is in his 40s and has worked in the West End, at the National Theatre and the Globe, as well as making regular TV appearances
Ros Clifford, 30, is currently a deputy stage manager, she has worked extensively in London and regional theatre for nine years
Emily Cohen is in her 20s and works in theatre and TV, as well as running her own theatre company. She is an associate member of a national company
Charlotte Osmand is in her 30s and has worked as a stage manager at venues across the UK, as well as in event management
Albert Parker is 60 and has appeared as a regular in soaps, two BAFTA-winning sitcoms, theatre and TV
Beryl Phoenix is in her 40s. She has had leading roles at the RSC, worked on numerous new plays, and toured nationally and internationally
Peter Quince is in his 70s and is an actor working in theatre and television
Jenny Talbot, 39, has 20 years of experience in the West End and touring musical theatre. She also works in TV, theatre and film
Annie Walker is 25. Since graduating from drama school, she has worked in regional theatres and is a writer and street performer
Dicky I would say King Lear. Every production that I see brings more out.
Jon I’ve done Lear three times and the brilliant/frustrating thing about it is you never get near it because it’s about everything.
Emily It’s never Shakespeare for me – I find it so inaccessible.
Beryl Road by Jim Cartwright was very important when I was younger.
Annie Road is close to my heart.
Ros I would say anything that made me feel something, which has been mostly Shakespeare and Tennessee Williams.
Beryl Things I’ve been in – either that I’ve helped to make or that is political.
Charlotte There are a few shows I’ve done that have been turning points for me, making great friends and meeting new people.
Jenny A Midsummer Night’s Dream is up there. I remember being so excited that we were finally learning about Shakespeare in school. Then we moved on to Romeo and Juliet, which I found so dull.
Annie Shows that are most important to me are those that I’ve seen at an integral part of my life, or they have prompted a wake-up call.
Jon There are some shows I did at school or as a student that I won’t go to see because I can’t stand watching other people do them, such as The Accrington Pals, Sweeney Todd, and Little Shop.
Jenny I agree – I did a production of a Sondheim show when I was 18, which, in my mind, is the production, and any others I watch will never live up to it. It has almost ruined the show for me.
Dicky I once did a verbatim play about the trials and tribulations of my favourite football club. I could’ve done that show for a couple of years at least.
Albert I did a revival of a play about three years ago on its 40th anniversary and I was so surprised by its ability to shock still. I suppose that was important in the sense that I felt we’d moved on, and it seemed like we hadn’t.
Ros My first Royal Shakespeare Company show will always stay with me. I’m lucky as I get to do a lot of new work and that’s always pretty special.
Beryl New work is often special, if it’s good.
Ros Luckily the majority has been wonderful.
Jon There’s nothing like finishing a show and thinking: “Nobody else has ever done that.”
Jenny New theatre needs to be supported by the money familiar theatre makes. It’s an equilibrium.
Annie I think there’s space for both – they can inform each other.
Charlotte I don’t run shows as much as I used to, but I got to cover an assistant stage manager track last year with my best friend. That show will always be important, mainly because of the fun we had, but it also showed that us ‘older’ ones have still got it.
Albert I did a fringe show 20 years ago. We got paid, had a pompous young director, and it was seven weeks of absolute hell. That was important. It told me to take more time in making choices.
Charlotte I was in a lot of shows when I was tiny. They sparked my love and interest in theatre. I wonder if I would still be doing this today if I hadn’t had that experience.
Jenny The best Shakespeare I’ve ever seen was Lear from the back of the balcony as a sixth former. Robert Stephens, on a map of Britain, which got torn up as the play went on and underneath it was blood red. I adored it.
Emily I really don’t understand Shakespeare being a memorable thing. I find it so inaccessible – you’re sat there and the whole audience is laughing and it’s the sort of laugh where they are just doing it to show everyone that they understand what’s going on. Every time they try to reinvent Shakespeare and make it more relevant to the times, it never is.
There’s a lot of pressure to like Shakespeare just because it’s Shakespeare
Albert There’s a lot of pressure to like Shakespeare just because it’s Shakespeare. I’m sure there are lots of really good actors out there who don’t have it on their bucket list. Increasingly, when I ask young actors what their dream job is, it’s never a contract with the RSC.
Jon I wonder about the ‘laughing to show they understand’ thing. I’m not sure it’s true. I don’t know what kudos you’re supposed to get in the dark. I think people generally laugh when they think something’s funny!
Jenny I hate that ‘first to laugh’ thing. Sitting in the audience of The History Boys at the National in London, I felt like I’d become involved in a competition of who will be the first to understand the joke? It wasn’t nice.
Albert I think the ‘laughing to show they understand’ thing is there. It normally happens in the first couple of scenes, particularly with audiences at Stratford. Then things warm up and people do start laughing genuinely.
Annie I agree to some extent about Shakespeare. I’m really passionate about making it as accessible as possible. I always think it’s like dance/music – let it wash over you and don’t worry about ‘getting it’ right away.
Jon There was a play I saw at the Lyric Hammersmith when I was 13 that had a gay scene in it and that was very important to me. The whole ‘representation matters’ thing.
Beryl Seeing yourself on stage is huge. Hence the need for organisations like Act for Change.
Albert The important shows might be the ones that made us want to do it. So I’m going to say Humpty Dumpty at the Sheffield Lyceum.